While Cambodia marginally stepped up efforts to combat child labour in 2014, a lack of resources and corruption remain massive impediments to the fight, according to a report released by the United States Department of Labor last week.
The report rated Cambodia as having made “moderate advancement” in its anti-child labour efforts, the same ranking it received in 2013.
It attributed those improvements largely to beefed-up inspections from the Ministry of Labour, which increased the number of inspectors trained to find child labour from 35 in 2013 to 58 in 2014.
However, the report states that significant shortfalls remained. For example, as of 2014, child labour inspections were only being conducted in the capital region.
“The Department of Child Labor reports that, due to budget constraints, it is able to conduct inspections only in and around the capital city of Phnom Penh,” the report stated, citing the US Embassy.
However, Veang Heang, head of the Department of Child Labor, yesterday denied that account.
“We do have provincial departments of labour who are in charge of child labour in the provinces,” he said, adding that commenting further would require permission from the ministry.
According to the report, the Labour Ministry conducted 723 inspections in 2014, removing a total of 46 children from 613 factories inspected, a noted increase from 2013, when only 153 garment factories were visited.
However, the report said the government lacks guidelines for inspections, which are “complaint-driven and do not target or monitor where hazardous child labor is known to occur”.
For children working outside factories, including those in agriculture and fishing, anti-child labour regulations are simply unenforced.
Nevertheless, the report praised the Cambodian government’s efforts to target what is deemed the “worst” forms of child labour, such as sex trafficking and slavery.
According to the report, anti-trafficking police now employ 500 officers to fight such forms of child labour, with 56 people – including 9 foreigners – arrested for human trafficking and child prostitution in 2014.
Anti-trafficking police rescued 101 underage victims, who were then referred to the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation.
However, corruption remains a problem in tackling child traffickers at the root level, the report notes.
“Judges can determine whether perpetrators will be imprisoned or fined, as well as the amount of the fine. Further, partly due to the high levels of corruption within the judicial system, the penalties imposed are not uniformly administered and do not adhere to the parameters prescribed by law.”
Joel Preston, a consultant for the Community Legal Education Centre, said determining whether Cambodia was winning the battle against child labour was difficult, given the large scale of the issue.
“It requires such wide-ranging reforms, not just specific to the garment sector, but in education, health, public services,” he said.
“Child labour is such a big problem to address as long as there’s always going to be a motive put kids to work.”